Concerns about Scottish education delivery plan

Concerns about Scottish Excellence and Equity in Education delivery plan

Paul Watson and Tommy Doherty explain why local authority school improvement professionals need a far bigger role on a local level if the Scottish Government is to achieve its vision for excellence and equity in education


Prospect’s Education and Children’s Services group is calling on the Scottish Government to rethink aspects of its delivery plan for excellence and equity in education.

The union welcomes the promise of additional funding for education and the government’s acknowledgement that responsibility for closing the attainment gap extends beyond the classroom, outlined this summer in Delivering Excellence and Equity in Education.

That document builds on the National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education released at the beginning of the year, which outlined a vision for:

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, set out within curriculum for excellence levels, and the right range of skills, qualifications and achievements to allow them to succeed.
  • Achieving equity: ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

Prospect welcomes the government’s commitment to the continuing improvement of educational provision for learners and believes that raising attainment and closing the attainment gap are admirable objectives.

Delivery concerns

But the union’s Education and Children’s Services group has concerns over aspects of the delivery plan, which lacks substantial detail as to who will be responsible for providing many of the elements and what the delivery strategies will be.

Approaches to quality assurance, including the role of Education Scotland – the national body for supporting quality and improvement in learning and teaching – are unclear.

It is here in particular where local authorities need a key role in ensuring effective delivery at a local level. 

Local authority officers are best placed to ensure local contexts are taken into consideration when schools plan for improvement. This needs to be spelled out in some detail at the earliest opportunity, with the role of local authority managers, officers and support staff clarified.

Many timescales identified within the plan are unrealistic and already the government has missed some of its own important deadlines.

For example, “clear and concise information on the basic framework within which teachers teach” was not published for the start of the new school session in August, as stated in the paper.

It is also unrealistic and unreasonable to expect schools to have “clear strategies in place across the curriculum in session 2016/17 to reduce the gap”. 

We believe that short and undeliverable timescales will result in poor-quality delivery, as schools will not have time to consider and develop a meaningful response. 

We urge the government to rethink its timescales and to publish a new schedule as soon as possible to reassure concerned practitioners and families.

To tackle this attainment gap, Scottish education practitioners need advice about developing the curriculum, improving pedagogy and explicit guidance on reducing the link between poverty and attainment.

Practitioners need research-based advice and support on what works; and high quality professional development on how to put this evidence into practice.

Improving teacher effectiveness will lead to improved educational outcomes for children and young people, but there is no clear indication of how this is to be achieved.

We believe that local authority school improvement professionals have a key role to play in analysing data and advancing pedagogical change aimed at raising attainment and reducing the link between poverty and attainment. 

However, over the last 20 years, in response to financial pressures, the capacity for local authorities to make such provision has been eroded, resulting in the quality development functions of the local education authorities being seriously diluted and impaired.

Attainment advisers

There is an opportunity here to redress this and to enhance support and challenge at a local level. We welcome the review of the role of attainment advisers and believe this resource could be deployed at local levels in more effective ways, under the auspices of local authorities, which reflect local structures.

It is important for attainment advisers to work alongside local authority staff who engage with schools regularly, ensuring that local education policy and accountability remain a key consideration. We question the need for a chief adviser role.

We welcome additional funding through the Scottish Attainment Challenge but believe that identifying schools to receive funding on the basis of free meal entitlement is fundamentally flawed.

This method will particularly disadvantage authorities such as those in north-east and southern Scotland, along with areas with high numbers of children for whom English is a second language.

Research has shown that children in any school in Scotland can be living in poverty.  Therefore we would urge a rethink of the funding model to ensure that all children living in poverty can receive the additional support required to help them succeed.

We believe that each local authority should be allocated funding and it should be for them to decide which schools get additional funding, its purpose and how its impact will be evaluated.

Governance review

We also have issues with the plan to “extend to individual schools responsibilities (delivery of education and raising standards) that currently sit with education authorities”. Schools work in the context of local and national policy and are only one of the mechanisms through which local authorities deliver education. Many education services, particularly those for the more vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, are delivered in partnership with many other service providers.

We also have particular concerns around the intended governance review. Take the statement about “commitments to empower schools, decentralise management and the support through the encouragement of school clusters and creation of new education regions”.

This raises fears that some of the Scottish Government strategies proposed may be heading in the direction of certain Conservative/LibDem coalition education policies under Michael Gove from 2010, especially the significant diminution of the role of education authorities in delivering education.

The Scottish Government should look at the serious difficulties created for schools and families in England from the Westminster government’s educational reforms before implementing any form of decentralisation.

While recognising that regional education structures may have merit in terms of economy of scale, it is important to retain local accountability, so that the local and regional authority can interpret, plan and enact the Scottish Government’s policies in their area. 

Any review must be open and transparent and make a balanced analysis of the views of all stakeholders in Scottish education. This is not a process that can take place over a few weeks or months, but requires some depth of enquiry and analysis.

While supporting the vision for raising attainment and ensuring equity in Scottish education, along with the additional financial resources this will bring, we urge the Scottish Government to address the above areas of concern, ensure local education authorities retain a central role in ensuring effective delivery of the plan, and invest in support and advice for teachers and managers to enable them to secure the best possible educational outcomes for children.

In summary, while we welcome and support the general intention of the Scottish Government’s plan to significantly improve the quality and equality of Scottish educational provision, we feel that the initiative has been rushed and lacks essential detail.

The timescale is unworkable and more collaborative work and consultation is required to enable a thorough and comprehensive improvement on the intended scale.